The death of a loved one is always a very painful experience. The dreadful news, no matter how prepared we thought we were, still has the power to completely dislocate our being. Some, during this time, wish to isolate themselves; others like to be amidst people; and some others choose to be surrounded by people yet be left alone. I have seen a few cry like little children, and a few more that prefer to go stoic. Anyway, we all have different ways of dealing with death.
I vividly remember not wanting to cry in front of people when my grandfather died in 2002. And so I would sneak out of the house into the verandah and cry to myself. It just made me feel weak, you know. I would say to myself, “I mustn’t cry. I need to be strong.” The real issue was because of the way I’d been conditioned to genderize tears. A day or two after my grandfather had slipped into eternity; I was at my aunt’s place waiting for another aunt to arrive from the US. I remember ‘warning’ my mother and aunt not to cry as I wanted them to be a support to my arriving aunt. But guess what? The warning and the advice didn’t work. The moment the three sisters came face-to-face they just wept, uncontrollably. I never understood what that moment truly meant until I had the very same experience sixteen years later when I held on to two of my best friends and wailed aloud like a toddler at the funeral service of my cousin. I had experienced the healing and protective power of tears.
Allow me to share with you something I had written a few years ago. My understanding of tears had actually taken a U-turn in 2016 when I had an ‘eye opening’ experience at a pre-funeral service. As I was sitting inside a church looking at people cry, I asked myself, “Why do we cry? Do tears have any meaning? Are we emotionally weak when we cry? Is it a sign of fragility? Why does it repel us?” Even as I wondered then, I was reminded of the message in John 11:35. It simply read: “Jesus wept.” This, my friends, was not a one-time-act. The original language implies that Jesus kept on weeping. Jesus at that moment became vulnerable and honestly there is, as I have learnt it for myself, no shame in becoming vulnerable.
Many times when someone is grieving we seek to create an environment that causes the individual to abstain from shedding tears. We overuse words of comfort, we rationalize the loss, and even worse we spiritualize death, and in doing so we alienate the intimacy between the bereaved and the deceased which would otherwise show up in the form of tears. Tears are a language of its own and none must prevent it from speaking. Who are we to silence it even in the name of God? When we tear we express the language of love; when we tear we show the remaining inhabitants of our little world that there is no shame in becoming vulnerable for our loved ones; when we tear we heal each other and ourselves; and when we tear we experience a little moment of grace. Tears are sacred; stifling them is a sacrilege. Let them speak for in that little volume they speak volumes.
If you are still grieving the death of a loved one, do it. It is painful, but deeply spiritual. And even as you do it let the absence of those precious lives somehow make their presence immanent and celebratory. Remember they have gone only to return someday. They may have left without a word; they shall return likewise. Until then all you and I have are our memories of them. May those memories continue to live and speak through that instrument of grace: tears. Let tears speak.